Monday, December 30, 2019

Three players to represent Blues at All-Star Game in St. Louis

Pietrangelo, O'Reilly, Binnington to represent Central Division; 
Perron surprising omission, could still make it in 'Last Men In' voting

ST. LOUIS -- Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O'Reilly and Jordan Binnington will represent the Blues at home for the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center on Jan. 25.

The three Blues skaters were named to the Central Division roster released by the league on Monday afternoon.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
(From left) Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O'Reilly and Jordan Binnington were
selected to represent the Blues at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis.

Pietrangelo will be making his second NHL All-Star Game after representing the Blues at the 2018 game in Tampa. 

After leading the Blues to their first Stanley Cup in June, Pietrangelo leads all Blues defensemen on goals (10), assists (21) and points (31) through 40 games in leading the Blues to a 26-8-6 record, first in the Western Conference. He is second in Blues history among Blues defensemen in goals (102, trailing Al MacInnis' 127) and passed MacInnis on Sunday for most assists (326).

O'Reilly will be making his second consecutive NHL All-Star appearance after representing the Blues at the 2019 game in San Jose. It is O'Reilly's third All-Star Game; he represented Buffalo in 2016. 

O'Reilly has eight goals and 26 assists in 40 games this season, tied for second on the Blues with 34 points. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy winner during last season's Stanley Cup playoffs as the MVP. He had 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 26 games.

Binnington, who was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week on Monday after going 3-0-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .929 save percentage to help the Blues to extend its season-high win streak to eight games, will be making his first NHL All-Star appearance after arriving in the league midway through last season; he made his first NHL start on Jan. 7 and shut out the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-0. 

Binnington, who is 19-6-4 with a 2.39 GAA, a .921 save-percentage and one shutout in 29 starts, became the first rookie goalie in NHL history to collect all 16 wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2019, he has 59 regular-season and postseason wins, only trailing Vegas' Marc-Andre Fleury (62 in 2009) in a calendar year.

One surprise was the omission of forward David Perron, who leads the Blues with 40 points and is second in goals (16) and second in assists (24).

But all is not lost. 

For the second straight season, the NHL will allow fans to select four players from a list of 31, one from each team (determined by the League’s Hockey Operations Department) as part of the 2020 NHL All-Star 'Last Men In' presented by Adidas. The highest vote-getters by division then will be added to their respective All-Star rosters.

Voting for the 'Last Men In' opens Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 11 a.m. CT and closes Friday, Jan. 10, at 10:59 p.m. CT.

The 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend will be held Jan. 24-25 at Enterprise Center, the first All-Star Game in St. Louis since 1988. The All-Star Game consists of a 3-on-3 hockey tournament with teams from each division, will begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25 and will be shown live on NBC. The 2020 New Amsterdam Vodka NHL All-Star Skills competition will pit the NHL All-Stars in a variety of exciting skills showcases on Friday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network.

A complete list of All-Stars:

Central Division (All-Star Appearance)
F          Patrick Kane, CHI (9th)
F          *Nathan MacKinnon, COL (3rd)
F          Tyler Seguin, DAL (6th)
F          Eric Staal, MIN (6th)
D          Roman Josi, NSH (3rd)
F          Ryan O’Reilly, STL (3rd)
G          Jordan Binnington, STL (1st)
D          Alex Pietrangelo, STL (2nd)
G          Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (2nd)
F          Mark Scheifele, WPG (2nd)

Atlantic Division (All-Star Appearance)
F          *David Pastrnak, BOS (2nd)
G          Tuukka Rask, BOS (2nd)
F          Jack Eichel, BUF (3rd)
F          Tyler Bertuzzi, DET (1st)
F          Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (1st)
D          Shea Weber, MTL (7th)
F          Anthony Duclair, OTT (1st)
D          Victor Hedman, TBL (2nd)
G          Frederik Andersen, TOR (1st)
F          Auston Matthews, TOR (4th)

Metropolitan Division (All-Star Appearance)
D          Dougie Hamilton, CAR (1st)
D          Seth Jones, CBJ (3rd)
G          Joonas Korpisalo, CBJ (1st)
F          Kyle Palmieri, NJD (2nd)
F          Mathew Barzal, NYI (2nd)
F          Artemi Panarin, NYR (1st)
F          Travis Konecny, PHI (1st)
F          Jake Guentzel, PIT (1st)
D          John Carlson, WSH (2nd)
G          Braden Holtby, WSH (5th)

Pacific Division (All-Star Appearance)
F          Jakob Silfverberg, ANA (1st)
G          Darcy Kuemper, ARI (1st)
F          Matthew Tkachuk, CGY (1st)
D          Mark Giordano, CGY (3rd)
F          *Connor McDavid, EDM (4th)
F          Leon Draisaitl, EDM (2nd)
F          Anze Kopitar, LAK (5th)
F          Logan Couture, SJS (2nd)
F          Elias Pettersson, VAN (2nd)
G          Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK (5th)

* Fan elected captains for each division

Below are the players available, by division and NHL team, for the Last Men In:

Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews (F)
Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar (D)
Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn (F)
Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter (D)
Nashville Predators: Matt Duchene (F)
St. Louis Blues: David Perron (F)
Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine (F)

Atlantic Division
Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron (F)
Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin (D)
Detroit Red Wings:  Dylan Larkin (F)
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov (F)
Montreal Canadiens: Max Domi (F)
Ottawa Senators: Jean-Gabriel Pageau (F)
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos (F)
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner (F)

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes: Teuvo Teravainen (F)
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno (F)
New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier (F)
New York Islanders: Brock Nelson (F)
New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad (F)
Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux (F)
Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang (D)
Washington Capitals: T.J. Oshie (F)

Pacific Division
Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf (F)
Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller (F)
Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau (F)
Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (F)
Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty (D)
San Jose Sharks:  Tomas Hertl (F)
Vancouver Canucks: Quinn Hughes (D)
Vegas Golden Knights: Max Pacioretty (F)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Blues are playing like they want to keep the Cup in St. Louis

Eighth straight win Sunday, 4-1 over Winnipeg Jets, has 
Blues playing confidently, poised, locked, loaded, focused

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues just dusted off the Winnipeg Jets, 4-1, on Sunday for the second time in 45 hours. It was their eighth straight win.

Ho-hum, right?


This is no fluke. It actually, without putting any jinxes on it, looks very similar to the way the Blues (26-8-6) played en route to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

And for the opposition, this version of the Blues looks very scary right now.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
(From left) Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Kyrou celebrate a
goal by Schwartz in the second period of a 4-1 win over Winnipeg Sunday.

"Yeah, similar," said Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, who scored twice Sunday to extend his point streak to six games (four goals, seven assists). "That's what we're kind of building towards and keeping that same intensity, sticking to our systems and it's been good. We've got a tough road trip coming up that will really test us."

The Blues are getting tested lately in every fashion, taking on all comers. There's still half a season left and plenty of tough opponents standing in their way. They can still run into a wall, obviously, but the Blues are winning with confidence, they're winning playing their style and it's a pain-in-the-you-know-what to the opposition.

They're 23-1-1 when scoring three or more goals and 19-0-2 (19-0-0 in regulation) when allowing two or fewer goals. Talk about a smothering stat. When the opposition sees that, they know they're in deep trouble. Either keep the Blues from scoring three or better get more than two.

"We're just finding different ways to win," Schwartz said. "Our special teams has been good. I think we're just aggressive. You look at our forwards backchecking, our D have such tight gaps. We're just frustrating other teams and making it hard on their top players and we're spending some time in the O-zone and kind of wearing teams down. We're playing tight, aggressive and together and it looks pretty quick and fast that way."

What's even more impressive is the personnel missing from the Blues lineup, namely Vladimir Tarasenko and without up-and-comer Sammy Blais and a host of others that have been missing and returned or are still out (Robert Thomas, Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev, Alexander Steen, Carl Gunnarsson). This didn't happen last year, this many injuries. And yet whoever is inserted into the lineup as plug-and-play guys are getting the job done.

The big horses are starting to score, including Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, but the supporting cast, guys like Robert Thomas, Sundqvist, Barbashev, Mackenzie MacEachern, Jacob de la Rose, Jordan Kyrou are scoring, and the defensemen are pitching in (Vince Dunn and Justin Faulk is coming on fast and furious), Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester are locked against top foes, and Dunn and Robert Bortuzzo are holding their own as a third d-pair. In fact, Bortuzzo is leading the charge among penalty killers. 

"We can talk about guys' assists and points and whatever, but to me, that's not the stuff that matters," said Pietrangelo, who passed Al MacInnis for most assists among Blues defensemen in team history (326) Sunday. "If you look what guys are doing in the defensive zone, guys are playing hard minutes, allowing other guys to play free and even guys like 'Bouw' and 'Parry,' you see what they're doing against these top lines, it's pretty impressive and allows some of us to maybe have some more offensive zone starts and the same thing out front. It's what a good team does. They find a role and everybody takes pride in what they do and none of that stuff goes unnoticed."

And the goaltending, well, what can we say about Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen, arguably the best 1-2 tandem in the league right now, and what do you have? Well, you have a well-rounded, well-oiled machine that's ready to take another stab at this.

They just don't talk about it. They're not talking about how many games they've won, they're not talking about how many points they have, and they're certainly not talking about standings. It's play, execute, move on, get ready for the next one.

"We don't really talk about it. That was a big win," Binnington, who is 6-0-0 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .921 save percentage his past six starts, said after making 25 saves Sunday. "We had to be patient and we had to stay composed. We stuck to our team game plan and we executed and it was a big win for us."

And then there's the Chief, Craig Berube, who has the attention of his players, commands their attention and has earned their respect, who is all but a shoe-in now to represent as coach of the Central Division at the All-Star Game here on Jan. 25. If he doesn't gloat about the Blues' accomplishments, you think the players will?

Not a chance. He's talking about the present game, and moving on quickly.

"We all like winning," Berube said with a grin. "... I thought it was a good game. We did a lot of good things out there. We were pretty solid all around. I thought the goalie was good, made good saves when we needed him to. PK did a great job tonight. Robert Bortuzzo, I mean that’s big stuff _ laying it on the line blocking those shots. That’s a big reason you win these games in my opinion. So that’s a tough job, great job by him." 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues coach Craig Berube (middle) and assistants Mike Van Ryn (left) and 
Steve Ott have the Blues playing the right way and focused in on being a
title contender again.

It's a good time to be at the rink these days. The Blues, who can tie the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second-most wins in a calendar year in NHL history with 73, have every reason to feel good.

"It's good. Obviously it's a lot of fun coming to the rink right now," Schwartz said. "We've got a good feeling. We're doing a good job even after wins coming to the rink the next day and getting ready and getting prepared."

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Blues shake three-game slide, sweep four-game homestand with structure, goaltending, timely goals

Third four-game or better winning streak this season has Blues first in the 
Western Conference; Barbashev, Binnington practice, MacEachern doesn't

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- A little home cooking went a long way in helping cure some ails in the Blues' game.

When they limped home following a 5-2 loss at Buffalo that produced the first three-game losing streak in regulation in more than 13 months, the Blues (22-8-6) did what they normally do best: nip it in the bud and get back on thw winning track.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues took to the outdoors on Thursday at Centene Community Ice
Center for practice, their first on the outdoor sheet known as 'The Barn'

They did so with wins over Vegas (4-2), Chicago (4-3), Colorado (5-2) and Edmonton (2-1).

"You lose a couple in a row, you're trying to change the momentum," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's always nice to come home. You're on the road there for a while. It was nice to come home and kind of take a mental break from being gone for so long. I think everyone feels a little bit recharged now and have a chance to get home and see our families, sleep in our own bed and kind of get in a routine again."

The Blues outscored the opposition 16-8 and they did it with solid goaltending from both Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen, they did it with a defensive structure known to be smothering and they got timely goals from key people as well as some depth scoring.

It all added up to the third winning streak of four games or more and has the Blues atop the Western Conference with 50 points, 16 points better than where they were at this time last season (15-17-4).

"I think one of the best things we're doing is we're taking it one game at a time, and we still haven't been perfect," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "There are still mistakes that we're making and our plan, I think, is to keep building for the playoffs. We have to get to our best game and continue to grow every day. When we do the right things, you can see we're able to find ways to win games, and obviously our goaltending's been outstanding, helped us out a ton. When we do the right things, we give ourselves opportunities to win and we've got to keep growing. It's not going to get any easier on us and we have to keep getting better.

"... At times, we're close. We're close to our best game. It's never going to be perfect, there's always going to be a little ditch, but we're responding well within the game and finding ways to adjust and respond."

The Blues used Thursday's practice before jetting off for a two-game trip to California to take on San Jose Saturday and Los Angeles Monday before the Christmas break to get in some skill work done inside before heading outside to the outdoor rink to The Barn for a little 3-on-3 play.

Coach Craig Berube rewarded the players for a fine week of hockey with some fun while getting the work on. But even as a coach, there are things he'll worry about.

"There's always concerns, there's always things you want to get better at," Berube said. "It's just a day-to-day, game-to-game stuff. We always try to retool our guys and dial them back in to do certain things better. But last two games to me were pretty good. Playing two high-end teams with really high-end skill and I thought that we did a real good job of shutting them down, keeping them on the outside, playing a real good team game. When we play like that, we're a real hard team to beat."

That high-end skill included limiting Colorado's MacKinnon (one assist) and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (one assist), who have combined for 169 points this season, to two assists, and O'Reilly drew the assignments as the shutdown line to help thwart those stars.

"I think for us, it helps find the simplicity when we know we're playing these big guns, they play a ton of minutes, they're going to be out there a lot," O'Reilly said. "I think it really helps narrow our focus on our mindset defensively. I know for myself, I'm not worried about trying to create. I need to play hard and make it tough on these top guys, and you can see we put ourselves in a good spot. Everyone kind of has that mindset if we play a good, defensive game."

That defensive game includes, for the Blues, playing tight as a five-man unit.

"We're playing as five, right," Pietrangelo said. "You've heard us say it before, if we play as five, we're tough to beat. When you have guys like we've faced these last couple games that can beat five guys by themselves, you need five guys to jump on the coverage and everyone's buying into that process. When you have that mindset throughout your lineup, it's easy to defend."

* NOTES -- Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, who didn't practice Tuesday and was the backup to Jake Allen Wednesday, skipped the indoor portion of practice Thursday before popping outside for the 3-on-3 portion of practice.

The Blues have maintained that Binnington is just getting some much-needed rest and made no mention of any ailments. 

Binnington has started 26 games this season, which was the second-most among starters this season, with Allen only making his 11th appearance and 10th start against the Oilers.

"I think he's played a lot this year and obviously going back to last year in the playoffs, short summer, I think we're managing him pretty well," Berube said of Binnington. "'Binner' probably wants to play every game, just like every other player, but we've got to make sure that he's rested and he's feeling good. That's important. Like I said all year long, we need both goalies, and we're getting good goaltending from both goalies."

For the record, Berube said he hasn't decided who will be the starter Saturday against the Sharks.

* As for forward Ivan Barbashev, who's missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, he skated Thursday and is geared to return on Saturday.

"He felt good today, so we'll see how he does tomorrow," Berube said. "... I think it is (a possibility for Saturday). It looks like it is right now, but I can't make that determination until I see him tomorrow."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ivan Barbashev (left) and David Perron take a draw during Thursday's 3v3
practice on the outdoor sheet.

* Forward Tyler Bozak, who missed the game Wednesday after showing up to the rink sick, did not practice Thursday, but Berube said he'll skate tomorrow. If he does, look for him to play Saturday.

"Bozie will be fine," Berube said. "He'll come in tomorrow and will probably go on the ice a little bit. We'll see how he feels, but he's feeling better today."

* Forward Mackenzie MacEachern, who scored his third game-winning goal of his young career Wednesday. has an upper-body injury and did not practice Thursday. Berube said it's nothing related to Wednesday's game and more something that's been bothering MacEachern, who has six goals in 29 games.

"We'll re-evaluate him tomorrow," Berube said. "He's had something nagging him, so we're taking a look at it. We wanted to keep him off today and then we'll see how he is tomorrow."

In winning fourth straight, Blues shut down game's best after 2-1 win over Oilers

Hold Colorado's MacKinnon, Edmonton's McDavid, Draisaitl to two 
assists past two games; trio are NHL's top three scorers at 169 points 

ST. LOUIS -- There are superstars in the NHL, the ones that people pay lots of money to see. They're the kinds of the players that get fans in the edge of their seats and make the kinds of plays that are rare.

It takes special kinds of talent to do the things that some of the top stars in the league do today, and it's also a special talent for the opposition to try and shut them down.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Zach Sanford (12) looks to defend against Oilers captain
Connor McDavid in St. Louis' 2-1 win at Enterprise Center on Wednesday.

In the past two games, the Blues have faced the game's three top point producers. On Monday, it was Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon. On Wednesday, it was the Edmonton dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

And in winning their fourth straight, 2-1 over the Oilers in front of 18,096 at Enterprise Center, the Blues (22-8-6) held the trio to a combined two assists (one for MacKinnon and one for Draisaitl).

McDavid (59 points), Draisaitl (58) and MacKinnon (52) have combined for 169 points this season. This is no surprise, though. This is what the Blues do.

It's not some complex formula that the Blues are using to thwart the game's best. So what is it all about?

"Just committing to defense. That's all it is, taking care of pucks," said Blues center Brayden Schenn, who matched up against Draisaitl's line Wednesday and scored the opening goal of the game. "We know when we play top players, we've got a lot of horses on the back end that frustrate those top guys. When the forwards chip in and help defend, we feel like we make it hard on those guys because they have a lot of skill and you have to try and find ways to frustrate them.

"You try and shut them down the best you can. They're going to get chances, they're going to get opportunities, they're probably going to get points, but at the end of the day, you try and play hard defensively. I think especially our D, we have a lot of guys there on the back end that can frustrate a lot of guys around the league with how well they skate and how well they defend. We've seen that the past couple games here."

MacKinnon has such speed and skill, can turn players into cork screws on a dime, beat you on the edge, much like McDavid can with his lightning-fast skating. Draisaitl is more direct, can be deceptively fast and has a lethal shot. 

Hello Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, who were on the ice when McDavid was and to Ryan O'Reilly, who assisted on Mackenzie MacEachern's third-period goal to make it 2-0, shadowed McDavid all over the ice. O'Reilly finished with 23:28 ice time for the game.

And for guys like that, limiting their real estate is the best recipe.

"Just taking away their time and space, really," said Blues goalie Jake Allen, who made 35 saves to improve to 6-2-2 on the season with a 2.21 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. "A lot of it just goes to our d-core get handed the job most of the time. It's a big job for our centers to stay on top of those guys, those fast, big, strong centers like McDavid and Draisaitl, especially when they're split up. 

"You obviously get 'O'Ry' and whoever else. Usually it's Bozie [Tyler Bozak], but whoever stepped in tonight shut those guys down. That's their job. It's 90 percent of the time 'Bouw' and 'Pary' out there against those guys and you've got to give them all the credit in the world. Bouw's a guy that doesn't get any accolades really outside the locker room. He's a well-respected player in here and guys know how important he is for us."

It can be a difficult task to ask a player to focus on being a shutdown guy rather than being the one to go out and be the playmaker, but in coach Craig Berube's system, it's predicated on limiting time and space from those players and taking away as many opportunities as they're used to.

"The guys that are on the ice against those guys, they're all focused on shutting them down," Berube said. "They really are, with the puck and without the puck. They do a good job when they have the puck of keeping it and being patient with it, hanging onto it and slowing them down. And when they don't have it, everybody's really cautious and have got good sticks, backtracking and they're tight on them. They don't give them time and space. When you have that focus from your team, that buy-in, then they can shut them down.

"We had numbers back and we were tight. We weren't loose. We were tight. We held our blue line a lot tonight. Either we had good sticks at them, killed it or they had to dump it in, and Jake did a good job of moving the puck, broke out of our zone."

And in the case of the Oilers, who came in with the NHL's No. 1 power-play unit at 31.4 percent and with at least a goal in eight straight games, the Blues put an end to that streak, going a perfect 4-for-4.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (left) takes the puck at Edmonton defenseman
Oscar Klefbom during action Wednesday at Enterprise Center. 

And when the Oilers have a power-play, and in Wednesday's case, an extra attacker on the ice, and even a 6-on-4 when the Blues were handed a delay of game penalty for a late goalie interference challenge on James Neal's goal with 1:50 remaining, it's nonstop McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice, and when those guys walk off the ice feeling empty-handed, there's a good feeling to the job that you did in keeping them off the scoresheet.

"It's a good feeling. Those guys are world-class players," said Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who saw the most penalty kill time among Blues players at 4:24. "I think when we play our tight-checking game, it's not all the back end. Our tight-checking game starts in the o-zone. It starts with forwards tracking, tight gaps. You put 'Bouw' and 'Pary,' the way they can skate and their sticks against any high-end talent in the world, they're going to do a job. 

"We've gotten to our identity here and that's a big part of it."

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

(12-18-19) Oilers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were able to withstand one challenge of a superstar player on Monday and now get set for a dynamic duo on Wednesday to close out a four-game homestand.

After throttling Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon in a 5-2 win on Monday, the Blues (21-8-6) play host to Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers (19-13-4) today at 7:30 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

The Blues seem to rise to the occasion against the league's top players, and even though MacKinnon had one assist on Monday, the Blues were able to contain Colorado's top point producer. They'll again have their hands full with McDavid, who leads the NHL with 59 points (20 goals, 39 assists) and leads his teammate Draisaitl by two (21 goals, 36 assists).

"With the high end talent, for sure. They play different games, styles, the teams, but when you've got Draisaitl and McDavid, you've got to be on your toes and checking, all five guys out there have to be aware out there," Blues coach Craig Berube said. 

Special teams will be a key. The Oilers have a power play goal in eight straight games (10-for-30).

"Every game is different but last time we played Edmonton (a 5-2 win on Nov. 6), I thought we did a good job," Berube said. "McDavid got a goal on the power play. That's the other thing. Their power play is lethal. We've got to be disciplined tonight and when we get penalties, we really have to bear down on the PK."

- - -

Jake Allen will start for the Blues against the Oilers tonight, giving Jordan Binnington a much-needed breather.

It will mark Allen's thirs start on home ice and fifth appearance since Jan. 8 of last season. It will be just his 10th start of the season and 11th appearance.

In Binnington's case, he had a maintenance day on Tuesday and did not practice; he took the ice for an optional Wednesday morning and got in a light workout.

Binnington has started 26 of the Blues' 35 games this season.

"It's just more rest for him than anything right now," Berube said of Binnington, who is 16-6-4 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. 'He's played a lot of hockey this year, even going back to last year. We're just trying to be cautious with him."

Emergency extraordinaire Tyler Stewart, who was on the ice for practice in Binnington's place Tuesday, was a third goalie Wednesday.

"We've got the other goalie out there. It gives guys confidence too, shooting on him," Berube said laughing.

- - -

Injured forward Ivan Barbashev (upper body) took the ice Wednesday morning before his teammates with Sammy Blais (wrist). Berube said Barbashev is progressing but will miss a second straight game tonight.

"Barbashev did better today, so that's a good sign," Berube said.

As for defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who has a cast on his left arm and is on injured-reserve, Berube said there's nothing new to report.

"No, nothing really to note," Berube said. "Really on Gunnarsson, it's sort of a waiting period with him right now.

"Probably day to day I guess. Again, it's a waiting thing with him. He's got to see how everything goes. That's hard for me to tell."

- - -

Friends off the ice, foes on it. That's how it goes with buddies Brayden Schenn and MacKinnon.

The two became friends as teammates for Canada at the World Championships, in 2013 and 2015, and in doing so, they've become golf buddies during the summer in a quartet that includes Tyson Barrie and ... Sidney Crosby.

That golf trip remained in tact after the Blues won the Stanley Cup last season.

"We go on a golf trip every year, so it was after they won, we go on a golf trip," MacKinnon said. "It's not just because they won, we've been doing it for five, six years now. (MacKinnon knows Schenn) from World Championships. I played World Championships when I was 18 with him and again when I was 20, and Tyson Barrie, who's one of my best friends, is really close with Brayden from junior days. We all played World Championships together and we just went on a vacation. We went to France and every year since then, it's an annual trip, the four of us. We go to different places every year. We literally talk about it all season of where the trip is next year."

Schenn and MacKinnon got connected because of their mutual friendship with Barrie, a defenseman with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season but who has played his career before being traded with the Avalanche.

"I'm buddies with originally Tyson Barrie, who played junior with my brother [Luke Schenn]," Schenn said. "I played some Team Canada stuff with him and we've become real close friends over the years and obviously they played together so it kind of came full circle with that. We've all done some golf trips with each other.

"We get together once a summer now. We've been to California, Dallas, Montreal. Good guys. I train under the same guy too, Andy O'Brien. We do that Vail camp in September too. We're kind of underneath the same umbrella together and we became buddies."

MacKinnon said he was happy for Schenn, being able to raise the Cup last summer.

"It was fun to watch them play in the playoffs I think," MacKinnon said. "I'm friends with Brayden, really close with Brayden, so watching him win and watching how deep their team is, it was pretty cool."

Schenn said MacKinnon's drive to win one himself is evident though.

He'd like to win one himself, no doubt about it. No jealousy there," Schenn said. "I think he's obviously maybe a little bit jealous, but he's not going to be ... he was happy for us. ... If you play each other on the ice or in the playoffs, it's game on. There's no friends. It's just how it goes. You can be friends off the ice, but I think when playoffs hit or meaningful games, you've got to take your job seriously and play hard."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Oskar Sundqvist-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-Alexander Steen

Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Troy Brouwer

Justin Faulk-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the backup.

Healthy scratch includesNiko Mikkola. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Sammy Blais (wrist), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Ivan Barbashev (upper body). Tyler Bozak was a late scratch due to illness.

- - -

The Oilers' projected lineup:

Joakim Nygard-Connor McDavid-Zack Kassian

James Neal-Leon Draisaitl-Sam Gagner

Jujhar Khaira-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Alex Chiasson

Riley Sheahan-Gaetan Haas-Josh Archibald

Oscar Klefbom-Adam Larsson

Darnell Nurse-Ethan Bear

Kris Russell-Caleb Jones

Mikko Koskinen will start in goal; Mike Smith will be the backup.

Heathy scratches include Markus Granlund, Patrick Russell and Brandon Manning. Matt Benning (head) is out.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Western Conference showdown remains one-sided after Blues top Avs 5-2

St. Louis owns six straight wins against Colorado, 17 of past 20; 
Perron fifth NHL hat trick, second-period power-play goals fuel victory

ST. LOUIS -- It was dubbed as a statement game, one in which the Colorado Avalanche said all the right things and were looking forward to the challenge of going toe-to-toe with the Blues knowing they're the defending Stanley Cup champs.

A Western Conference showdown, if you will.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues and Brayden Schenn (10) have physically had their way with 
Nikita Zadorov (16) and the Avalanche. St. Louis won 5-2 on Monday.

Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer said at the morning skate that it's no measuring stick for them, that it's more all about the Avalanche and their game.

Well, the Avs goalie is right, but in a different sense. It is about them, but he should have been referring to the Blues, who continued their recent dominance of their biggest threat in the Central Division and Western Conference following a thorough 5-2 win on a snowy Monday night at Enterprise Center that saw 15,263 brave the elements.

For the Blues (21-8-6), who have won three in a row and seven of 10, they increased their lead to three points over the Avalanche (21-9-3) and have defeated them six straight times and amazingly, 17 of the past 20 matchups.

If this were a boxing match, the white towel would have been thrown in many rounds ago, because this has been a one-sided fight. Even though there have been a number of close, tightly-contested games, the Blues seem to find a way to neutralize Colorado's high-octane offense with a smothering, suffocating, hard-hitting, tight-checking, puck cycling style that the Avalanche just can't seem to handle.

The Avalanche have come to town twice this season riding high. The first time on Oct. 21, it was a season-opening eight-game point streak (7-0-1), only to see the Blues douse the flames with a 3-1 win. And on Monday, Colorado came in riding a nine-game point streak (8-0-1) and the Blues again showed who rules the roost.

"We play them really tight," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, who exchanged unpleasantries with Nathan MacKinnon in the second period. "I think when you have a pretty high offensive team, especially a guy like MacKinnon over there, we know what he's capable of, we seem to tighten up pretty good. Those guys over there, it takes five guys to defend and we defended with five guys tonight, so we had success.

"Even when we are (flying), they're going to get chances. The guy (has got) 50 points for a reason. We just got to limit the second opportunities, limit the chances they're going to get and I thought we did a pretty good job of that."

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo set the tone early with a heavy hit on Avalanche forward Tyson Jost, a big, clean hit behind the Blues net. It's the way you have to play skill forwards by limiting their time and space, not allow them to get those skates revved up and puck dangle in your zone.

The Avalanche had a big push when they took a 2-1 lead in the second after David Perron, who scored his fifth NHL hat trick, and the Blues thoroughly dominated the first period and grabbed a 1-0 lead. But the Blues pushed back, scored two power-play goals by Perron and Vince Dunn in a 36-second span late in the second, retook the momentum and carried it into the third period with a clinical 20 minutes of hockey.

"I really liked our first period," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "The second, we got scored on, it set us back a little bit. They had a couple power plays and they scored on the one. They had the momentum but we got it back. I thought we got it back before our power plays, a little bit, started to get going and get in the offensive zone and then the power play came through.

"I thought we played a pretty solid game. That's a tough team. They're fast, man. They've got a lot of speed and I thought our guys did a real good job. Binner, he had to make saves and he made saves."

The Blues, who outshot the Avalanche 15-6 in the first, were getting outshot at one point 13-2 in the second, and the Avalanche had tilted the ice to one end, but the Blues got the final seven shots of the period, as Berube said, grabbed the momentum before the power-play goals, and took control in the third.

Jordan Kyrou scored a highlight-reel goal to make it 4-2 at 11:24, and Perron completed his hat trick with an empty-netter at 16:05.

But it was the way the Blues won the third. They kept pushing, they kept taking it to the Avalanche and kept the puck away from them. They didn't allow them to generate speed through the neutral zone, didn't turn pucks over that feeds Colorado's engine.

The result speaks for itself.

"There's never a point to panic regardless of the situation," Perron said. "It was nice. We hadn't scored (a power-play goal) in a couple few games now. ... It was nice to get one and then to follow it up with another one by Dunner, nice play by Bozie [Tyler Bozak]. Obviously you're down 2-1 with a few minutes left in the second and all of the sudden, it's 3-2 for us going in here. It was certainly nice."

Dunn said, "I think they're a very good team with four lines. We're the same way. Today, we didn't let them take over transitionally. We played well in all three zones and limited Grade-A chances. I just think rolling over all four lines and not letting the foot off the gas. It was big for our power play to score those goals, but I think overall, we were playing pretty good hockey."

There will be three more matchups against the Avalanche this season. All three come in Colorado, and the Avalanche will be licking their chops to finally put a stake in the Blues because as well as they've started, as many skill players as they have, until they can crack the Blues' system, this will stay a one-sided fight.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) lays a check on Avalanche center
Nazim Kadri during action Monday at Enterprise Center.

"It can be at times (the matchup)," Berube said. "I think our guys really get keyed up to play against MacKinnon and them guys. It seems like we really kind of thrive on that stuff, especially our 'D.' They get pumped up to play against good players like that. They do a good job of making sure they're not going to score."

And in doing so, the Blues have implemented the perfect blueprint how to contain the Avalanche, and as long as they execute it, those "Kroenke sucks!" chants will remain alive and well.

Monday, December 16, 2019

(12-16-19) Avalanche-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- A Central Division showdown is set for a snowy Monday when the top two teams will collide.

The Blues (20-8-6, 46 points) host the Colorado Avalanche (21-8-3) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) in a matchup of not only the top teams in the division but also the top teams in the Western Conference.

The Blues, who are coming off an improbable 4-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks when they overcame a 3-0 third-period deficit to win for the first time in franchise history in regulation and second time ever, already own one win over Colorado, 3-1 on Oct. 21 here at Enterprise Center.

St. Louis has defeated Colorado five straight times dating to the final game of the 2017-18 regular season.

"There's a tendency for our group when we play against those high-level teams, we seem to just show up and be more consistent with it," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We know it's going to be a hard game and I think we're a little more prepared for it. ... I think we all to a man know we have to be on tonight or these guys will make us pay."

The Blues will have to play a tight-checking game, play more defensive-oriented and shut down Colorado's high-powered offense led by Nathan MacKinnon. The Avalanche come in riding a nine-game point streak (8-0-1), but when they came to St. Louis earlier this season, they were 7-0-1.

"I don't have an answer. I think we do a good job checking against these guys," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We know how skilled they are, their top guys. I think our guys get dialed in and do a good job without the puck for sure and checking, because you have to.

"It's important that we hang onto the puck tonight in the offensive zone and keep it, force them to play 200 feet, force them to play defense, frustrate them. That's how we've had success against them. We have to do the same. They're a very good team. Four lines deep in my opinion."

The Blues know they'll have to be defensive-minded, know they'll have to pick their chances to attack, but keeping the Avalanche and their goal-scoring prowess to a minimum will be key.

"They've got a lot of skill and a lot of speed," Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist said. "Obviously they've got some really good lines that we need to keep an eye on, but for us, it's more playing our game, finding our game and doing that for 60 minutes.

"Playing simple, playing our game, get the pucks deep and don't turn it over at the blue line. If you're turning it over tonight, it's going to be a long night. So you just have to get the pucks in and go to work. We know we're strong down low. That's what we need to do. It feel like we've been playing one of our better games every time we play against these guys. I think especially our D has been playing unreal against Colorado. We just need to keep doing the same thing tonight. They're going to get their chances. They're a really skilled team. We need to make sure we're playing tight in the defensive zone and attack as a five-man unit."

- - -

Blues forward Ivan Barbashev joins the crowd among the injured and will miss tonight's game with an upper-body injury.

Barbashev missed the third period of Saturday's win against the Blackhawks after being checked in the offensive zone by Chicago's Dennis Gilbert. His head smacked the back glass and presumably, he could be in concussion protocol, but Berube said he is day-to-day.

"He's day-to-day right now. That's where it's at right now," Berube said.

Zach Sanford, who's missed the past three games, including the first two because of his own concussion protocol, will jump into his role with O'Reilly and David Perron.

"I feel good. We took care of everything, checked all the boxes and I'm ready to go tonight," Sanford said. "I think everybody knows how big tonight is. It's the middle of the season, but we're battling right there with them for the top of the West and they're a really god team and have been playing really well. We're going to have to bring our best and it should be a fun game. If we can just frustrate them on their chances, we're going to get our own and we'll be able to take advantage of those.

"We've had a lot of stuff like that happen this year, especially like you said where one guy's coming out and the other guy's coming back in. I think that just shows the depth of our team. The next guy who's coming in is always showing up doing his job. I'll have to stick to that plan, show up tonight and do my job."

In his past 11 games, Sanford had seven points (two goals, five assists) and was a plus-4.

"He was way more aggressive with and without the puck," Berube said. "I felt he was getting on the forecheck more and being physical and winning those puck battles. He's got good hands and good skill. I just thought he was doing that kind of stuff more than anything, managing the puck a lot better. Getting it in deep, making the right plays with the puck. He's got all those tools and he's big. He's a smart player. He's got to will himself a little bit more, and when that's what he's doing, he's getting results."

- - -

The Blues used Justin Faulk and Alex Pietrangelo in the third period of Saturday's win and will go back to that pairing to at least start tonight.

It also means the Colton Parayko-Jay Bouwmeester shutdown pairing will be back together to go against Colorado's top dogs.

"They've been a very good pair for a long time, but with the addition of Faulk, we've got to move guys around, and depending with [Carl] Gunnarsson, [Robert] Bortuzzo, lefty-right combos and things like that," Berube said. "The other night, third period, Petro and Faulk played together and were part of three goals for us. We'll see how it goes. We don't like it any more than they do, mixing and matching all the time, but it's just what it is. So we've got to make it work."

- - -

O'Reilly took time away from the game Friday to do a rendition of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' for the kids on Friday after an autograph signing at Fan Cave Sports in Chesterfield.

O'Reilly, who signed and posed for pictures with a few hundred fans, then read to the kids in a packed room surrounded by none other than Santa Claus.

And how did he do?

"Ooh, I'd say B-plus," O'Reilly said. "I jumbled a few words, but the crowd was pretty energetic. It was packed with kids. They had a blast. It was kind of fun to feed off of them.

"I read it to my little guy a couple nights before just to kind of make sure. It's a little tough, but I got through it. ... It's easier to answer questions than it is to read. I'm not too good at it, but I just had to pace myself a little bit."

- - -

MacKinnon, who is third in the NHL with 50 points in 32 games, fifth in assists (30) and tied for fourth in goals (20), has high praise for the Blues and knows Colorado's recent futility against them.

"Not that fun, no," MacKinnon said. "These guys are such a good team and they're so hard to play against. There's a reason why they're the defending champions and they have a good chance of winning again. They're a deep team. Their top four d-men are the toughest to play against, I think. This game is for first in our division and the West so it's going to be a big one for the both of us.

"They're so big down low and they cycle the puck real well, they create a lot of o-zone time for themselves. Just got to try to keep them to the outside. They've got big bodies and good d-men. We've got to play our game at the end of the day and hopefully that's good enough to beat them."

Colorado, which leads the NHL in goals per game at 3.66, is used to the high-flying style and imposing their speed and skill on the opposition. But the Avalanche know that playing a grind game against the Blues is in the cards.

"I think I'm pretty versatile. I can play a grind type of game," MacKinnon said. "I think the key is just to stay patient. You're not going to get a ton of chances tonight. Just got to be ready when you get one or two and just try not to get frustrated against these guys, they're so good and try to win a 1-0 game tonight.

"That's the biggest challenge is to stay patient. You expect to not to dominate, but you expect to have a big influence on the game and some nights you don't have it against good teams like this. When I get my chances, I know I'll get a few tonight, I've got to be ready for them.

"When you get a guy like Parayko, who's 6-6 and can skate like the wind, I don't know if there's anybody else like him in the league. He's a horse and I played with him at World Championships as well. He's always such a nice guy and great player, and Bouwmeester with Pietrangelo, Faulk, [Vince] Dunn, all those guys can move and are tough to play against."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Alexander Steen-Robert Thomas-Tyler Bozak 

Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Oskar Sundqvist

Justin Faulk-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko 

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches will be Troy Brouwer and Niko Mikkola. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Sammy Blais (wrist), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Ivan Barbashev (upper body) are out.

- - -

The Avalanche's projected lineup:

Andre Burakovsky-Nathan MacKinnon-Joonas Donskoi

Gabriel Landeskog-Nazem Kadri-Mikko Rantanen

Valeri Nichushkin-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Matt Calvert

Matt Nieto-Tyson Jost-J.T. Compher

Nikita Zadorov-Samuel Girard

Ryan Graves-Ian Cole

Calle Rosen-Mark Barberio

Philipp Grubauer will start in goal; Pavel Francouz will be the backup.

The healthy scratches are Vladislav Kamenev and Anton Lindholm. Erik Johnson (lower body), Cale Makar (upper body) and Colin Wilson (lower body) are out.